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S. Korea, US to launch defense cost-sharing talks this week

South Korea and the United States will kick off fresh negotiations this week on sharing the cost for the upkeep of American troops here, the foreign ministry said Monday. 

The first round of the 11th Special Measures Agreement will take place in Seoul on Tuesday and Wednesday, the ministry said in a release.

Chang Won-sam, who led the previous round of negotiations last year, will represent South Korea until his successor is picked, while James DeHart, a former charge d'affaires of the US Embassy in Norway, will lead the US delegation. the ministry said.

"We're at the final stage of the appointment process. The second round of the talks will be headed by the new chief negotiator," a ministry official said. 


(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

The allies have been bracing for what will be another tug of war aimed at determining how much Seoul should shoulder for the cost of keeping the 28,500-strong US Forces Korea stationed in the country.

US President Donald Trump has apparently been raising pressure on Seoul to jack up its financial contribution to the USFK, particularly ahead of his full-fledged reelection campaign.

Unconfirmed news reports have said that Jeong Eun-bo, a former senior financial ministry official, has been tapped as the new negotiator as the government wants to have an expert "good at numbers" who won't easily back down in the face of US demands.

South Korea has said that it would seek to maintain its share of the costs at a "fair and reasonable" level.

The SMA talks are likely to be a key agenda item for Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in when they meet for talks on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York on Monday (US time).

Under this year's SMA, struck in February and due to expire on Dec. 31, South Korea agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won ($871 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the previous year.

The allies may face off over a series of contentious issues, including the level of Seoul's payments, the duration of the new SMA and other specific items that will be covered by the cost-sharing arrangement.

Concerns have arisen ahead of the talks that any serious dispute from the negotiation could hinder efforts by the allies to maintain close coordination for the envisioned resumption of nuclear talks between the US and North Korea.

Since 1991, Seoul has shouldered partial costs under the SMA -- for Korean civilians hired by the USFK, the construction of military facilities to maintain the allies' readiness and other forms of support. (Yonhap)

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